Just forget the words and sing along

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Thoughts on Hawkeye

Marvel Studios has had a heck of a year. When movie theatres starting opening back up, they came roaring back to the big screen. Black Widow, Shang-Chi, and Eternals were doing the kind of business they thought would take a few years after the pandemic to do again. And it's not over yet, as the hype for Spider-Man: No Way Home has reached a fever pitch.

But it started way before the theatres started opening up, as Marvel Studios' first TV offerings for Disney+ started popping up. Folks pointed out that WandaVision had more screen time for Wanda and Vision than in all the Avengers movies. That led to what was essentially a buddy cop drama with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. We got our first real taste of what the multiverse was going to bring us with Loki, and then we first started exploring that multiverse with their first animated offering, What If...? 

Hawkeye Poster

And now, the year on Disney+ closes out with the premiere of Hawkeye. Apparently, Marvel Studios was originally developing this as a movie before they decided to expand it into a series. I was lucky enough to see the first two episodes, and I have some thoughts.

Now that he has his family back, Clint Barton is trying to make up for lost time. He's taken his kids to New York City for a Christmas outing. First on the agenda, seeing the new hit Broadway musical Rogers, which is a musical retelling of the Battle of New York. (That's the events of The Avengers.) Needless to say, Clint finds people playing his friends -- especially his dear fallen friend Natasha Romanov -- a little bit triggering. On top of that, we see he's uncomfortable. Turns out he never really adjusted to his celebrity status as a superhero, unlike his fellow Avengers.

But as the day goes on, Clint turns on the TV and is horrified. As you may recall from Avengers: Endgame, seeing his family get snapped out of existence by Thanos drove Clint to a dark place. He took on the new masked identity of Ronin and started slaughtering crime lords. What Clint sees on TV is that someone adopted his old identity of Ronin. Clint figures he's got to find this new Ronin and shut them down before a whole bunch of skeletons come out of his closet and hunt them both down.

So who is this new Ronin? Kate Bishop. She lost her father in the Battle of New York, and was also witness to Hawkeye's heroics. She then spent her young life training with a bow, working to protect her family like Hawkeye would. Now, fresh out of college and ready to take on the world, there's something not right. She's home for Christmas and sees that her mother is getting ready to re-marry. Her future stepfather is hiding something, but she's not sure what. And it's her investigation that leads her to the Ronin mantle. 

Now with New York's underworld gunning for vengeance against Ronin, and Kate's future stepfather somehow connected to it, Clint Barton and Kate Bishop become unlikely partners to get to the bottom of it.

My first reaction to these first two episodes is this is reminding me a lot of Daredevil. It just has to do with the the New York setting and the criminal underworld as our main villains. In the first episode, Clint has an unarmed battle with a group of thugs that made me think I was watching Daredevil in his black track suit costume from season 1 of Daredevil. Makes me hope that the rumours that Vincent D'Onofrio coming back as Kingpin pan out. 

Unlike Daredevil, though, this has a much bigger budget and is much more polished, greatly resembling the Marvel Studios films. The quips and wisecracks are there as well. One of my favourite bits has to do with Kate realizing that Clint now wears hearing aids and asks how he got them.

CUT TO a montage of all the explosions that Clint has been close to.

Clint: Ah, who knows?

Of course, the performances are what keep bringing us back. Jeremey Renner again is great as Clint Barton, the world-weary everyman of the Avengers. He's thrilled to have his family back, uncomfortable with being recognized, and even more so when Kate Bishop shows up with her hero worship.

But the star of the show is Hailee Steinfeld as the young Kate Bishop. She is just utterly charming as she's coming into this world. She's got a nose for trouble as she tries to figure out her future stepdad, and she's got stars in her eyes when she finally comes face to face with Clint. Steinfeld just sells it.

Based on the first two episodes, Hawkeye looks like it's going to be a fun romp to finish out the year with Marvel Studios. I am eagerly anticipating the next episodes, to see how this all pans out.

Hawkeye hits Disney+ on Nov. 24. 

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Thoughts on What If...?

 Well, Marvel Studios just isn't stopping with cranking out the TV shows this year.  Their fourth series, and their first foray into animation drops this Wednesday, What If...?

What If...? Key Art

The original Marvel comic of What If...? would revisit key events in the Marvel Universe and simply ask, "What if A happened instead of B?"  For example, the one I had when I was a kid that I remember was What If Uncle Ben Had Lived?  In this retelling of the Spider-Man story, it was Aunt May who was killed by that burglar, and having Uncle Ben as Peter Parker's lone parent figure changed things in significant ways.  Uncle Ben found out that Peter Parker was Spider-Man, forced him to confess to J. Jonah Jameson, and Jameson then began blackmailing Spider-Man to do his dirty work.  

So, with the Marvel Cinematic Universe now a thing, why not use a TV series to similarly revisit key moments in the MCU?  And that brings us to What If...?

I was lucky enough to see the first three episodes, and I have some thoughts.

I think you know what Episode I is, and it's been all over the advertising.  Episode I goes back to Captain America: The First Avenger and asks, "What if Agent Carter took the super-soldier serum instead of Steve Rogers?"  With a Union Jack emblazoned uniform, Captain Carter takes on the Red Skull and HYDRA.  But, Steve Rogers still gets into the fight, as Howard Stark builds him a World War II-era Iron Man-style armor dubbed the HYRDA Stomper.  It's Captain Carter and the HYDRA Stomper fighting for freedom across the European theatre!

Firstly, as episodes are only a half-hour long, this is a very fast-paced episode, as it feels like Captain America: The First Avenger condensed down to a half-hour.  This is the one that takes the least amount of deviation from its source material, as it does feel a lot like a Coles Notes version of The First Avenger.  But it was a very solid, action-filled outing.

Episode II has also been all over the pre-release hype.  This one swaps out one Marvel hero for another, asking, "What if T'Challa Became Star Lord?"  A frustrated young T'Challa wanders away from the Wakanda capital city one night...the same night that the Ravagers were sent to abduct young Peter Quill.  But, Yondu didn't exactly assign his best and brightest to the task, and they abduct T'Challa instead.  We then flash forward 20 years, and we find that, under T'Challa's mentorship, the Ravagers have become galactic Robin Hoods...robbing from the rich, and giving to the poor.  

This episode is just spectacular.  I know some people complained that Black Panther was a little too stoic, but here, Chadwick Boseman gets to quip with the best of them.  Feels like a real shame that we never got to see him do much comedy.  It takes some hilarious turns, like finding out how T'Challa defeated Thanos.  

I was just roaring with laughter throughout this one, as we learn that, no matter where he ends up, T'Challa is destined to be a king.

Episode III was the one where I went in with no prior knowledge.  I was completely flying blind, and it's an episode that completely blew my mind.  I don't want to say too much, because it's got a real twisty turny plot, and it'd be very easy to drop spoilers.  Set during Phase I, specifically that two-week period that Iron Man 2 and Thor takes place in.  Someone is murdering the candidates for the Avengers Initiative, and Nick Fury is desperate to find out who and why.  The episode evolves into a very solid whodunit.  

The animation is spectacular.  They use that "cel shading" technique to make everything look more like it's hand drawn.  You know, it's the technique that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse turned up to 11.  

The voice cast is amazing, as well.  Whenever possible, they brought back the same actors from the films to reprise their roles.  As already mentioned, it is a treat to hear Chadwick Boseman one last time as T'Challa.  I think this is going down in history as his final role.  I read somewhere that T'Challa variants pop up in a total of four episodes across this first season, so we're going to get to enjoy him a few more times still.  Josh Brolin doing a new twist on Thanos was, like most of the T'Challa episode, somewhat hilarious.  

The only notable absences in the first three episodes were Chris Evans as Captain America, Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man, and Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow.  Didn't catch who filled in for Downey.  Veteran voice actor Josh Keaton does Steve Rogers, and it's a pretty agreeable Chris Evan impression.  Actress/filmmaker Lake Bell takes over the role of Black Widow.  It's not a straight up Scarlett Johansson impression, but she's able to put her own spin on it, which is great.  

And it's all anchored by Jeffrey Wright as the Watcher, who serves as our narrator.  He brings just the right amount of gravitas to the role.  Crank up that subwoofer, because his voice echoes throughout your room.  

What If...? is going to be another winner for Marvel Studios and Disney+, and continue their dominance of the streaming wars.  Definitely worth a watch.  

What If...? premieres on Disney+ on Wednesday, August 11, with new episodes every Wednesday after.  

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Thoughts on Behind the Attraction


Behind the Attraction Poster

I grew up in that era when The Wonderful World of Disney was event television.  Every Sunday night at 6, the family would gather around the TV to watch Disney.  And one thing that always stuck out in my mind were episodes that would take you behind the scenes at the Disney theme parks.  Seemed there was always an episode showcasing how they made the animatronic in Pirates of the Caribbean.  Heck, I remember when Splash Mountain opened up in the late 1980s.  Splash Mountain was a really big deal when it first opened.  

So that's been one of my disappointments so far with Disney+.   There hasn't been a lot of that "behind the scenes at the theme parks" stuff yet.  Yeah, we got The Imagineering Story, which was great, but it was more about the parks in general.  I want to see deep dives on the history of the Haunted Mansion.  I want the inside scoop on Star Tours.  Heck, I want those classic episodes of The Wonderful World of Disney to binge.  

Enter Behind the Attraction.

This was announced a year ago, as one of their big tie-ins to Jungle Cruise.  They even got Jungle Cruise star Dwayne Johnson on board as a producer.  But like a lot of things in our pandemic world, it got delayed.  It's finally dropping on Disney+, and my interest was piqued when I heard that they even had Brian Volk-Weiss on board as a producer.  Volk-Weiss was the man behind the Netflix sleeper hit The Toys That Made Us...the documentary series all about the history of your favourite action figure lines.  Volk-Weiss brought this wonderful, slightly irreverent tone to the proceedings, which made the end product fun and breezy, yet still educational.  So I went into Behind the Attraction thinking it was going to be The Toys That Made Us for Disney rides.  

And that's exactly what Behind the Attraction is.  

The same playful tone that Volk-Weiss brought to The Toys That Made Us is here in full force.  The same use of stock footage, the same kind of graphics, and the same kind of quippy narration (here provided by Della Duck herself, Paget Brewster).  

But, true to the show's name, this is more than just turning on the lights in the Haunted Mansion and showing you how the animatronics work.  This show really does take a step back and show you how the attraction fits into the Disney parks and it's history as a whole.  A great example is the episode on Star Tours.  Yeah, we get to hear it's well-known origins as a ride to tie in with the Disney film The Black Hole, but when that flopped, it was shelved until Disney CEO Michael Eisner reached out to George Lucas about getting the Star Wars license.  But then we start following the whole design lineage of how Star Tours eventually leads to Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, and how it all ties together.

Another new aspect that those Wonderful World of Disney episodes of yore could never get into was localization.  We've got Disneylands in Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Shanghai now.  So they also go in to how these rides had to be adapted for other cultures.  The more famous example is the Haunted Mansion.  They knew that the Haunted Mansion couldn't compete in France with things like the Paris Catacombs, so at Disneyland Paris, they put it in Fronteirland and gave it a Wild West makeover.  The Chinese people have an entirely different concept of ghosts and spirits, so at Hong Kong Disneyland, it's called Mystic Manor and has more to do with playful spirits than spooky ghosts.  

But the lesser known example comes from the episode on the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.  Well, The Twilight Zone never made it to Japan, so when they opened it up at Tokyo DisneySea, they had to remove all connections to The Twilight Zone and make a completely original story.  And then the episode ends with another kind of localization...they go into how the Tower of Terror at Disney's California Adventure was refurbished into Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout.  

But it's not just the rides, oh no!  There's an episode that's all about Walt Disney's fascination with trains, so you think it's about the steam train at Disneyland and Walt Disney World's famous monorail.  But that eventually springboards into an analysis of Walt Disney World's mass transit system and Walt Disney's fascination with the subject.  Remember:  Walt Disney World consists of four theme parks, twenty seven hotels, a bunch of water parks and golf courses, and tons more stuff.  People need to get to all these places.  One of the imagineeers they talk to says Walt Disney World has a mass transit system comparable to the city of Atlanta.  It's one of those things that you think is going to be boring, but winds up being utterly fascinating.  

Behind the Attraction is a wonderful series that will scratch that "behind the scenes at the parks" itch that you might be having at Disney+.  I didn't have a chance to watch every episode in advance, but I can hardly wait to binge the whole thing.

The first five episodes of Behind the Attraction drop on Disney+ this Wednesday, July 21.

Sunday, July 04, 2021

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Thoughts on Monsters at Work

 It's here!  Another one of the very first Disney+ originals has finally made it the streaming service.  And that's what was once hyped as Pixar's first original half-hour series for the streamer, Monsters at Work.

Monsters at Work Logo

I don't know what kind of politicking happened behind the scenes at Disney, but this is no longer branded as a Pixar production.  It's now listed as being produced by Walt Disney Television Animation.  Regardless, I'm still a Pixar junkie and anything that they're even tangentially related to gets my interest.  And when you're developing a series, the Monsters, Inc universe is just ripe for development, especially when you're getting into the workings of a power plant like Monsters, Inc works.  

Our main character is Tyler Tuskmon, the purple guy with the big horns you see in the picture there.  He just graduated top of his class at Monsters University and is all ready to become the next top scarer at Monsters, Inc.  Just one problem:  this takes place just a couple of days after the events of Monsters, Inc.  The Monster world is now switching gears to generating power by getting kids to laugh, and Tyler now has the completely wrong skillset.  When he shows up for his first day of work at Monsters, Inc, he's assigned to MIFT:  the Monsters Inc Facilities Team.  They're the maintenance crew, who spends most of their days in the basement waiting for the call to come fix something.  

So who are the wacky misfits that Tyler is now stuck working with?  We've got:

Fitz, the grey guy with the big nose.  He's the head of MIFT and just desperate to be liked.

Duncan is the green guy with bat wings and multiple eyes.  He's second in command and has his eyes on Fitz's job if/when Fitz retires.  He instantly sees Tyler as a threat and makes it his mission to destroy Tyler.

Cutter is the green one in safety gear.  Always has a morbid story about how a previous MIFT member was killed on the job.

Val is the orange, furry one.  She's an old college friend of Tyler's and is always cheerful and perky.  She's voiced by Mindy Kaling, so, yeah, it's Mindy Kaling being Mindy Kaling.  

But that's not all.  Also coming back from the Monsters Inc films are Billy Crystal and John Goodman as Mike and Sully.  Sully is now running Monsters Inc, and Mike is helping out the scarers become jokesters by teaching courses at Monsters Inc.  Of course, Tyler takes those courses, because he's desperate to adapt to this new world and get out of the basement.  

Also coming back from the films are Jennifer Tilly as Mike's girlfriend Cecile, Bonnie Hunt as Ms. Flint (the person running the simulator in the film), and John Ratzenburger as the Yeti.  Although, Yeti wasn't in the first two episodes.

Got to see the first two episodes for review purposes.  The first deals with Tyler showing up at Monsters, Inc and coming to terms with the new situation.  The second one follows his first day on the job as he realizes that MIFT has a pretty important role.  We also get to see Mike and Sully in their parallel journey as they adjust to being the ones in charge now.  There's a bit of a story arc that they're setting up as well, as there are mysterious power outages at Monsters Inc that they're trying to get to the bottom of.  

There's still a bit of Pixar charm in there.  One thing I really liked about Monsters University is how it's about the death of dreams.  Mike comes to the terrible realization that he'll never be scary enough to be a scarer, so has to adjust to the real world accordingly.  Monsters at Work very much continues that theme.  Tyler's journey is all about realizing that the real world isn't what you thought it'd be, and learning to adjust accordingly.  Even though it's colourful monsters in a fantasy world, it is still a very relatable story.  

With our cast of characters, it's easy to make comparisons to The Office.  Fitz is Michael Scott, desperate to be loved by his employees.  Duncan is Dwight, a stickler for the rules and desperate to advance.  And, well, Mindy Kaling is Mindy Kaling.  But just as A Bug's Life took its cues from Three Amigos and Cars took its cues from Doc Hollywood, it'll be interesting to see what new direction they can take these characters in.  

I think Monsters at Work has lots of potential.  I'll be tuning to see where this goes.  The first season is 10 episodes long.  The first two episodes drop on Disney+ on July 7, with new episodes every Wednesday after.  

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Thoughts on Loki

 It's been a pretty good year for Marvel.  Over on Disney+, they've given us two fantastic TV shows so far with WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.  And now, their third offering for the streamer drops tomorrow, Loki.  

Loki Poster

Loki was the first Marvel Studios series announced for Disney+, way back when they first announced Disney+.  And it made sense.  Loki was one of the most unexpected breakout characters from the MCU, particularly with his villainous turn in The Avengers, and his redemption arc over Thor: The Dark World and Thor: Ragnarok.  So why not gift the world with more Loki?  

I've been lucky enough to see the first two episodes, so I thought I'd share my thoughts.  

It all starts as we all predicted after seeing the events of Avengers: Endgame.  With the time heist to 2012 going sideways, Loki swiped the Tesseract and was able to escape.  But he doesn't get too far, as he's promptly captured by the TVA:  the Time Variance Authority.  The TVA are a police force that exist outside of time and make sure the the timeline stays pure, lest any alternate timelines be created that could destroy the multiverse.  

While awaiting his trial, Loki captures the attention of TVA Agent Mobius.  There's a variant on the loose ("variants" are what the TVA calls folks who are mucking about with the timeline) who's killing TVA agents, and Mobius believes that Loki is just the Hannibal Lecter-type who can provide insights into the variant's motives.  So Loki gets drafted as Mobius's reluctant partner, and he's off to save the timeline.  

Episode 1 is very exposition-heavy, as they lay out the rules of the TVA and who they are, and also bringing us up to speed on Loki.  There's some great character stuff for Loki.  Remember:  this is not the Loki who died in Endgame.  This is a Loki who escaped at the end of The Avengers, so he's still a bit of a villainous bastard.  Tom Hiddleston gets some great stuff to do, as Loki comes to grips with his new reality.  Owen Wilson is great, too, as Mobius.  I don't think I've ever seen Wilson this subdued, and it works great for the character.  

And I just love the whole look of the TVA, as you've seen in the trailers.  It's very much stuck in the 1970s...a 1970s vision of the future.  But it's a vision that's lasted well into the 90s, making it look very run down.  It's a bit of a soul-crushing bureaucracy, but I just love the whole aesthetic.  The music even compliments it well, with some 70s synths and even a hint of Theremin.  

Episode 2 is where we're off to the races, as Loki and Mobius get down to business hunting down our variant.  And this is just spectacular.  I felt a dash of DC's Legends of Tomorrow, in the way our heroes have such a lack of reverence for what they're doing to the timeline.  It also felt a bit like Doctor Who.  Can't quite place it.  They go back to one historical and, well, it just felt like Doctor Who.  But don't worry...it still felt like Marvel through and through.  

Episode 2 has a spectacular ending, with the revelation of who the variant is.  I won't say who, but I just smiled and said, "Aw man, that's great."  And now I've gotta wait two weeks for episode 3!

All in all, with Loki, it looks like Marvel Studios has another winner for Disney+.  

Don't forget, with Loki, Disney+ is trying something new.  Rather than drop new episodes every Friday, they're dropping every Wednesday.  Loki premieres on Wednesday, June 9, with new episodes every Wednesday after.  

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Mark Tastes Dairy Queen's 2 for $5 Snack Pack

 For this Mark Tastes Random Things, we continue checking out fast food places and their value menus!  Today, we swing by Dairy Queen for their 2 for $5 Super Snack...specifically, the grilled flamethrower chicken wrap and a cherry Misty.

Sunday, May 09, 2021

Nerd News Headlines: May 9, 20221


Time for me to catch you up on all the nerdy news you missed in the past week!  Marvel rolled out an amazing trailer laying out their slate for the next two years.  Loki's release is moved up...we've got some shake-ups on Team Flash.  The Spoiler might be coming to Batwoman, Night Court's getting a reboot, and Disney made actual working lightsabers!

Friday, May 07, 2021

Star Wars: The Bad Batch -- Thoughts on Episode 2

 So with Star Wars Day being back on Tuesday, they gave us a new Star Wars animated series, The Bad Batch.  And I was lucky enough to see the first two episodes beforehand!  And I am now free to give you my thoughts on Episode 2.  

Star Wars the Bad Batch Poster

Mild Spoiler Warnings for Episode 1:

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Mark Tastes KFC's $5 Fill Up


Back when the pandemic started, I was hitting the fast food value menus quite a bit for my stress eating.  And pretty much all of them have some kind of $5 snack combo.  So for the next little bit, I'm going to try them all!  On this Mark Tastes Random Things, we start with KFC's $5 Fill Up.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Star Wars: The Bad Batch -- Thoughts on Episode I

 Happy Star Wars Day, everybody!  And what better way to celebrate than with a brand-new Star Wars series dropping on Disney+?  Yes, today we get the 70-minute premiere of the new animated series, Star Wars: The Bad Batch.  

Star Wars: The Bad Batch Key Art

Let me bring you back up to speed.  Introduced in the final season of The Clone Wars, the Bad Batch are a squad of clone troopers who emerged from their cloning chamber defective.  Well, they call them defective, but the truth is, they were gifted with certain enhancements.  I'll have to back and re-watch their Clone Wars episodes, because I can't remember if their enhancements were accidental or intentional.  Anyway, on our squad we've got:

Hunter - The one who looks like Rambo, and the leader of the bunch.  He's got enhanced senses, making him an excellent tracker.

Wrecker - The Hulk of the group.  He's got enhanced strength, and likes to smash things.

Tech - The one who looks like Brains from Thunderbirds.  He's got enhanced intelligence, making him the team's tactician and hacker.  

Crosshair - The one who looks like Clint Eastwood.  He's got enhanced vision and a huge ass sniper rifle, making him the team's sharpshooter.  

And joining them after their appearance on The Clone Wars is Echo, the former colleague of Captain Rex.  He's capture by the separatist droids and violated with cybernetic enhancements so the droids could mine his mind of his knowledge.  Now, on the battlefield, his cybernetic parts make him a formidable fighter.  

Their own series kicks off with their debut episode, Aftermath.  It starts at a very logical place:  about partway through Revenge of the Sith, where we see what the Bad Batch were up to when that very fateful Order 66 was issued.  We then follow the Bad Batch as they try to find their place in the new order...the order of the Empire.  

Don't want to say too much, because I don't want to spoil anything.  First thing I'll say is, if you were a fan of the The Clone Wars, you'll totally dig this.  It really does feel like a continuation of The Clone Wars in its tone and style.  And this is a much better introduction to the series than the The Clone Wars movie was.  

With what we've seen in The Mandalorian, Disney seems to be getting a formula in place for their Star Wars series.  As the episode progresses, we eventually meet a Baby Yoda type that the Bad Batch takes in and eventually becomes guardian/surrogate father to.  It'll be interesting to see how the show progresses and how this character will play into the greater plot.  

This is taking place at a very interesting place in the Star Wars timeline.  While we've seen the years between the prequels and the original trilogy in shows like Rebels and movies like Solo, we've never seen the immediate days after Revenge of the Sith.  Turns out a lot of people were mistrustful of Emperor Palpatine from day one and the seeds of rebellion were planted quite early on.  It's going to be fun to see the Empire's first steps to cement their hold on the galaxy.    

Naturally there's a few cameos from beloved Star Wars characters in order to help place the Bad Batch in the grander mythology.  In fact, it opens with a surprise cameo from a certain character, and it was thrilling to see how the Bad Batch plays into their backstory.  (Their voice doesn't really match with the younger character design, but hey, it was fun to see them back.)  

The first episode of The Bad Batch does everything a great first episode is supposed to do:  introduces our heroes, introduces the big bad for the season, and lays out what our heroes need to do.  And I think we're going to have fun with the Bad Batch.

Episode 1 hits Disney+ today, with Episode 2 this Friday, and new episodes every Friday after that.  

Sunday, May 02, 2021

Nerd News Headlines: May 2, 2021


Time for me to catch you up on all the nerdy news you missed last week!  Elizabeth Banks is giving us a Flintstones reboot, we've got a new Luca trailer, we've got a Green Lantern for TV, and more!

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Mark Tastes Dairy Queen's Rotisserie-Style Chicken Bites


Something new in the chicken nugget wars! On this Mark Tastes Random Things, we sample Dairy Queen's Rotisserie-Style Chicken Bites. Are they just as tasty but healthier?

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Nerd News Headlines: April 25, 2021


It's my weekly recap of all the nerdy news you may have missed! We've got our first look at the Shang-Chi trailer, some tidbits about other Marvel productions, Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots: The Movie is happening, and more!

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Reflections on Video Stores

 I finally watched a movie they've been talking about a lot on most of my movie podcasts:  The Last Blockbuster.  As we all know, Blockbuster has gone from once being the largest video store chain in the world, to just one location left in the town of Bend, Oregon.  The documentary is about the rise and fall of Blockbuster, and how the last Blockbuster is still making a go of it.  A lot of filmmakers are interviewed as they share their memories of Blockbuster, and video stores in general.  

A row of VHS tapes, with the Spanish edition of "Mars Attacks" being pulled off the shelf

The most fascinating part is when they talk about Netflix.  It's become part of pop culture folklore now how, in the late-1990s, Netflix tried to get Blockbuster to buy them, and Blockbuster laughed them out of the room.  It's become a go-to example for shortsighted business decisions.  But as the documentary points out, by the late 2000s, Blockbuster was poised to kick Netflix's ass.  They had launched a rent-DVDs-by-mail service that was outpacing Netflix.  Blockbuster had just launched a streaming service that was cheaper and had a greater selection than Netflix.  But then the 2008 financial crisis hit.  Netflix made a lot of bad business decisions in the late-90s/early-2000s, leaving them with a lot of debt.  The 2008 financial crisis crushed them.  I read an interview with one of the founders of Netflix not too long ago, and he was asked how things would be different if Blockbuster did buy Netflix.  He said that they tried to get Blockbuster to buy them when they were in the middle of making all those bad business decisions.  The 2008 financial crisis would have still crushed Blockbuster, and history would still have played out exactly how it did.  Except, you know, Amazon Prime would probably be the #1 streaming service.

But I'm taking to my blog because, well, while I understand nostalgia for video stores, I don't understand nostalgia for Blockbuster specifically.  Blockbuster didn't have a lot of market share in rural Alberta.  I've never set foot in a Blockbuster.  If you grew up in a town of less than 500, then your video store was a rack of VHS tapes at the corner store.  Well, down in Entwistle, eventually it was at the corner store.  First it was a rack of VHS tapes in the corner of the Chinese restaurant.  Then it became a rack of VHS tapes in the feed store.  Then eventually, it made its way to the corner store.  

We finally got a video store in the next town of Evansburg, but again, it didn't start that way.  In Evansburg, it started as a rack of VHS tapes in the video arcade.  Then the racks of tapes started overtaking the place.  In the late-1980s, it was split down the middle.  Down one side of the store was the racks and racks of video tapes.  Down the other side was all the arcade cabinets.  If you were going to rent movies, be sure to bring some quarters, too.  The store was renovated in the early-1990s, becoming Lazer Video.  At that point, about three quarters of the store was video store.  The handful of arcade games were banished to behind a beaded curtain in the back room.  

My first honest-to-goodness video store experience had to be Movie World in Stony Plain.  Both of my parents worked in Stony, so they'd occasionally grab some movies for the family from there on a Friday night.  And there were some rare Tuesdays where Mom and Dad would grab the new release right away.  I remember they grabbed Batman as soon as it dropped on VHS in November of 1989.  The Chevy Chase Vacation movies are one of the few franchises that my Dad is a total nerd for, and I remember he had to grab Christmas Vacation the Tuesday it finally came out.  And hey, Movie World is still kicking.  At least, they were when CTV Edmonton did this news story about them in 2018.  

Video stores didn't become my hangout of choice until I started going to college in Camrose.  The big chain that dominated Camrose was called Video Update.  There was one within walking distance of the campus, and they had a college kid special.  Flash your student ID, and get 2-for-1 rentals.  I'll never forget renting a couple of movies one Saturday night, settling into my dorm's TV lounge, and popping in the movies.  I had this conversation when one of my neighbours came through.

Him:  What movie did you rent?

Me:  Ghostbusters.

Him:  What did you get for your second one?

Me:  Ghostbusters II.

Him:  God, that makes sense.  

The VHS cover for Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace

All the cool kids worked at Video Update, including my best friend.  Most video stores had a "staff picks" shelf, where the clerks could put their favourite movies.  My best friend once bragged that his shelf was the most popular on the "staff picks" wall.  The best had to be in April of 2000, though, when we were eagerly awaiting the VHS release of The Phantom Menace.  New movies came out on Tuesdays, but the video stores would get them some time between Thursday and Monday.  That way they had enough time to put them in the plastic clamshells and add them to the computerized inventory system in time for Tuesday.  So I hung out with my best friend that weekend, waiting for the call that the shipment came in, and we could be the first to rent Phantom Menace.  But sadly, we were thwarted.  To prevent what me and my best friend and countless other Star Wars fans were planning to do, Video Update wasn't getting Phantom Menace until Monday night.  

Then college ended, and I moved home.  Until I figured out what next to do with my life, I was working at Extra Foods in Drayton Valley.  Across the street from Extra Foods was a Video HQ, so that became my new usual video store.  Grab a couple of new releases on a Tuesday, and check them out.  There was a Panago Pizza right next to Video HQ, so if I knew I was going to be on my own for supper, I'd go to Panago and order a pizza, go over to Video HQ and grab my movies, then go back to Panago and grab my pizza.  I actually applied to work there.  They were offering the same wages as Extra Foods, and Extra Foods had just put me on the company health plan, so I stuck with Extra Foods.  

So sadly, no Blockbuster for me.  When I have fond memories of video stores, this is what I think of.  And while Blockbuster has been reduced to just one store, there's still a surprisingly large amount of Mom & Pops making a go of it.  If there's one in your neighbourhood, go for the nostalgia.  I see there's actually a growing trend among movie nerds to build faux video stores in their basements, as way to keep the memories alive and to showcase and store their DVD collections.  I think I just might do that if I ever own a house someday.  

Or, you know, put a rack of VHS tapes in the pantry to replicate the rack of VHS tapes in the corner store.  

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Mark Tastes McDonald's Western BBQ Quarter Pounder


On this installment of Mark Tastes Random Things, we dig into McDonald's latest variant on the Quarter Pounder.  Is it a taste sensation, or just "the one with BBQ sauce?"

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Nerd News Headlines: April 18, 2021


Our first look at the Powerpuff Girls, more Indiana Jones 5 cast members, and a new Fast and the Furious trailer!  It’s the Nerd News Headlines for April 18, 2021.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Mark Tastes the Pizza Hut x KFC Popcorn Chicken Pizza


Is it two great tastes that taste great together?  On this installment of Mark Tastes Random Things, I tie into Pizza Hut and KFC's Popcorn Chicken Pizza.

More videos at my YouTube Channel!

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Nerd News Headlines: April 11, 2021

It's my weekly recap of all the nerdy news you may have  missed!  We've got a bunch of Star Trek announcements, casting is underway for Indiana Jones 5, and we meet the mini Pufts!

Catch more videos at my YouTube channel!

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Mark Tastes A&W's Double Bacon Double Cheese Burger

 Lest you think McDonald's and Dairy Queen is all I do on Mark Tastes Random Things, let's head down to A&W! This time out, we sample their Double Bacon Double Cheese Burger.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Mark Tastes Every Creme Egg at Shopper's

It's here!  The most anticipated video ever in Mark Tastes Random Things!  At least, it's the one I put the most work into.  With Easter around the corner, I sample:
- The Cadbury Creme Egg
- The Caramilk Egg
- The Oreo Egg
- The Reese Peanut Butter Egg
- The Hershey's Chocolate Creme Egg
- The Hershey's Cookies 'n Creme Egg
- The Carnaby Street Creme Egg
- The Carnaby Street Caramel Egg

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Nerd News Headlines: March 28, 2021


Let me catch you up on all the nerdy news you missed this past week!  There's a new Kate Kane on the CW's Batwoman, The Suicide Squad trailer is out, the release date is finally set for Black Widow, and more!

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Mark Tastes Dairy Queen's Mint Oreo Blizzard


March is here, and that means another Blizzard of the Month at Dairy Queen! In this installment of Mark Tastes Random Things, we tie into the Mint Oreo Blizzard.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Nerd News Headlines: March 21, 2021


On my weekly recap of the nerdy news, I rattle off some of the highlights of the 2020 Oscar nominations, some Star Wars deep cuts are coming to Disney+, Hourman is getting his own movie, and more!

Thursday, March 18, 2021

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier - Thoughts on Episode 1

 Hey!  So I was lucky enough to get my hands on an advance copy of the first episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.  I have some thoughts.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Movie Poster

The first thought is:  it's fantastic.

If you're one of those that complained that WandaVision started too slowly, you'll have no complaints here.  It opens with an action scene straight out of a James Bond movie as we see the Falcon doing his best to live up to the legacy of Captain America.  It's pretty much the only big action set piece in the episode, though.  I mean, hey, it's the first episode.  They've got to take their time setting up the series.

Most of Falcon's story takes place down in Louisiana.  He's helping his sister save the family business.  While you may remember that Falcon was one of the many that Thanos snapped out of existence, his sister wasn't, and the five years made it a rough go for the family fishing boat.  Meanwhile, in his superhero-ing, he's keeping an eye on a new terrorist organization called the Flag-Smashers.  Their manifesto is straight out of #ThanosDidNothingWrong.  They feel the world was a better place when the population was reduced by half, and want to put it back to that way.  

Then we catch up with Bucky Barnes, aka the Winter Soldier.  His journey very much mirrors Captain America's in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  Bucky's been pardoned for the crimes he committed over the decades as a brainwashed HYDRA assassin.  However, that doesn't change the fact that he helped to put a lot of very bad people in positions of power.  So now, as part of his pardon, he's helping law enforcement take down those very bad people.  He's still got PTSD from his time, and he, too, is very much a man out of time.  

This first episode is very much about setting up our two heroes and where they are right now, helping to establish more of our post-blip word.  Which is one of the great things about these shows.  We have the time to let our characters breath and really get to know them.  In this first episode, we've also got a great cameo from another MCU vet.  (I knew they were in it, but you might not.  In fact, I forgot they were in it, and seeing them was a delightful surprise.)  

All in all, I was very delighted with the first episode, and I think you're going to like it, too.  

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Mark Tastes the Shamrock Shake

 Another YouTube series I've launched is Mark Tastes Random Things, where I sample the latest fast food offerings.  For St. Patrick's Day, I tie into the Shamrock Shake.

More on my YouTube channel!

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Nerd News Headlines: March 14, 2021

 Hey, folks who still pop by this blog from time to time!  I've started cranking out videos on my YouTube channel on a semi-regular basis!  Every Sunday, I do Nerd News Headlines.  Remember when I used to blog my favourite entertainment headlines here?  Well, now I do it as a YouTube series where I read them to you!  Here's this week's, for March 14.

It's my weekly recap of the week's big nerdy headlines! We've got the cast for our live-action reboot of the Powerpuff Girls, Steven Spielberg is getting his next film ready, news on the latest Star Trek series, Michael B. Jordan is gonna direct Creed III, and more!

You can find this and more videos over at my YouTube channel.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

A Primer on Extreme Ghostbusters

Over on the official Ghostbusters YouTube channel, they've begun doing something wonderful.  Every Saturday, they post an old episode of the classic 1980s cartoon, The Real Ghostbusters.  But that's not all!  They also announced that, every Wednesday, they're going to start posting an episode of the 1990s cartoon, Extreme Ghostbusters.  I see lots of people nerding out about this.  One of my best friends, a huge Ghostbusters fan, even expressed his excitement because he had barely heard of it, let alone watched it.

So that encouraged me to copy this over to my blog.  Back when this pandemic began, one of the projects I began doing with all my extra free time was a series of blog entries called "My Best Remembered History of the Ghostbusters in Animation."  Loving cartoons and loving Ghostbusters, I've googled a lot about the various animated series over the years, and I was going to compile them all into a kinda complete history of Ghostbusters cartoons.  I eventually lost interest and moved on to other things.  But, if you're like my friend, curious about this Extreme Ghostbusters, I figured I'd post what little I wrote on the Extreme Ghostbusters as a primer for you, before you dive in.  

Extreme Ghostbusters Logo

A popular fan theory for a reboot is to have one of the original Ghostbusters mentoring a new team, and that's exactly the direction this 1990s reboot went.  

Another downtick in paranormal activity has caused the Ghostbusters to go their separate ways.  Egon is keeping the dream alive by living in the firehouse, monitoring the Ecto containment unity, and teaching courses on the paranormal over at the local community college.  About the only friends he still has from the old days are Slimer, who still haunts the firehouse, and Janine, who still carries a torch for him and comes by to check on him once in a while.  But when a new spike in ghost activity comes along, Egon recruits a new team from his top students!  Well, his only students, and given the time this was made, they're as 90s as you can get:

Roland - Our level-headed nerd.

Eduardo - Our sarcastic Gen X slacker

Kylie - Our goth GF

Garrett - Our TOTALLY EXTREME! sports dude.  

To give voice to these new Ghostbusters, Sony gathered a phenomenal roster of talent.  Roland was voiced by Alfonso Ribero Jr, fresh from playing Carlton on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.  Eduardo was voiced by Rino Romano, who I believe still holds the distinction of being the only person who's ever voiced both Spider-Man and Batman.  Kylie was Tara Strong, in one of her first big Hollywood roles.  And Garrett was Jason Marsden, currently Disney's official voice of Max Goof, a.k.a Goofy's son.  

The whole show was designed to take place in-continuity with The Real Ghostbusters (indeed, producer Richard Raynis worked on The Real Ghostbusters back in the day), so it just made sense to invite the original cast back to reprise their roles.  The only one who answered the called was Maurice LaMarche, the original voice of Egon.  Of course, LaMarche's most famous role is the Brain on Pinky and the Brain.  In an interview I read with LaMarche years ago, he said that voice acting legend Frank Welker was offered the chance to reprise his role of Slimer, but Welker turned it down, saying the recording sessions interfered with his regular tee time.  So, taking over for Slimer, we had the voice of Ren and Stimpy and Fry from Futurama, Billy West.  Welker, however, did reprise the role of Ray Stanz for their epic 2-part final episode, which also brought back Dave Coulier as Venkman and Buster Jones as Winston for the Real Ghostbusters and the Extreme Ghostbusters to team up.  It was the biggest of many callbacks to The Real Ghostbusters.  

The show didn't last long, but it did have its lasting impact on the greater Ghostbusters universe.  Fans really took a liking to Kylie.  She had, perhaps, the most fleshed-out backstory.  We learn that she was once every stereotype the blonde and bubbly cheerleader, but she went goth following the death of her grandmother.  That led to her fascination with the paranormal, and she just wants to know that her grandma is OK on "the other side."  In the premiere episode, she's the only one of the new team who's in awe of Egon, as, needless to say, the Ghostbusters became legends in the paranormal community.  She's been worked into some of the newer Ghostbusters comics.  For comics continuity, she starts as a regular at Ray's Occult Books before the Ghostbusters hire her on as an intern.  

The show also managed to pick up several awards for representation.  Garrett was in a wheelchair, and many disabled advocates at the time called Garrett one of the most positive representations on television.  The chair didn't dominate his character, and they never did any "very special episodes" detailing how he overcame his disability.  He was just always accepted as one of the crew.  That's not to say it was outright ignored.  The show was on Amazon Prime a couple of years back, and I revisited a few episodes.  In one, Garrett is getting ready to charge into a haunted house, proton packs blazing.  Kylie stops him, urging caution.  Garrett dryly, sarcastically responds, "Yes.  I might hurt myself and never walk again."  

Extreme Ghostbusters premiered in the fall of 1997 and ran for just one season of 40 episodes.  While it wasn't around long, it did make its mark on the Ghostbusters fandom.  

Now head over to the Ghostbusters YouTube channel and start watching!

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

The Code Names of Star Wars Films

 So over on my social medias -- that would be Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram -- I started doing this thing called Trivia Tuesday.  Every Tuesday, I post an info-graphic about a trivia bit I picked up over the years.  Today, I posted this one.


Trivia Tuesday!  The code names of Star Wars movies.  Return of the Jedi - Blue Harvest.  The Phantom Menace - The Doll House.  The Force Awakens - Avco.  The Last Jedi - Space Bear.  Solo - Red Cup.  Attack of the Clones - Jar Jar's Big Adventure

I just wanted to ramble more about it, because it's just one of those things that I always found interesting.

When George Lucas was making The Empire Strikes Back, he noticed that two things would happen when word got out that the new Star Wars movie was filming in town.

1)  Fans would start coming by, hoping to get a glimpse of the proceedings.

2)  Local contractors would price gouge.

So, when it came time to start work on Return of the Jedi, he decided to give the production a code name.  This way, word wouldn't get out, or at the very least, be slow to get out.  The code name he came up with was Blue Harvest.  But this was more than just a code name.  A fake logo was made up that adorned all the crew jackets, and crew members were given a cover story to tell people about how it was just a slasher film.  But, word still got out, and the name Blue Harvest became part of Star Wars mythology.  It was eventually used as the title of an episode of the 1980s Ewoks cartoon, and of Family Guy's 2007 Star Wars spoof.

It has since become tradition for, not just Star Wars films, but all manner of event pictures to have a code name.  I'm thinking about doing another one of these info-graphics for the Marvel movies, or just other blockbusters that had code names that interested me.  

Anyway, since I found all the code names when I researched this, I figured I'd share the complete list.

The Phantom Menace - Both "The Beginning" and "The Doll House" were used at various points

Attack of the Clones - Jar Jar's Big Adventure

Revenge of the Sith - The Bridge

The Force Awakens - Both "Foodles" and "Avco" were used at various points

The Last Jedi - Space Bear

The Rise of Skywalker - trIXie

Rogue One - Los Alamos

Solo - Red Cup

The Mandalorian - Huckleberry